What’s the Deal with International Textbooks…

It’s been a while since I had an opportunity to write some thoughts out as I have been adjusting back into school mode. Aside from learning how to take exams again and making new friends, the added stress of tuition seems to be the biggest impact on the pockets of many students, including mine. So do I really want to pay $150 for a text book when I can get it for $80 on Ebay? At the same time, I am not convinced yet that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) will make textbooks for college/graduate students more affordable than what we can find through other sources…. i.e. ebay.

According to Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the new law, which went into effect on July 1st, contains three main provisions:

1. Publishers must disclose textbook price and revision information to faculty during the marketing process. A study by the Student PIRGs found that such details were often left out; 77% of the professors surveyed said publishers rarely or never offered textbook prices unasked.

“Professors share students’ concern about cost and generally would prefer to assign less expensive books,” said Dr. D. Steven White, Professor of Marketing & International Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. “The new law empowers professors to readily identify lower-cost options that suit their instructional needs.”

2. Publishers must offer unbundled versions of textbooks. “Bundling,” or the practice of packing textbooks with CDs, pass-codes and other ancillaries that often go unused, can increase costs 10-50% according to PIRG research.  From now on, students will have the option to purchase only the items they need.

3. Colleges must include the list of assigned textbooks during course registration. With advance notice, students can plan ahead for the full cost of their next term, and they have time to shop around for the best deals on their books.

But I am going to take this one step further…

A few weeks ago I posted via my Posterous an article in the NY Times that quite frankly caught my interest. The article goes on to write “To the despair of the textbook publishers who are still trying to block such sales, the reimporting of American texts from overseas has become far easier in recent years, thanks both to Internet sites that offer instant access to foreign book prices, and to a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that federal copyright law does not protect American manufacturers from having the products they arranged to sell overseas at a discount shipped back for sale in the United States.”

The  article goes further to cite some interesting numbers:

Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry AMAZON.COM: $146.15 AMAZON.CO.UK: $71.53 DIFFERENCE: $74.62

Physics, Volume 1 AMAZON.COM: $93.75 AMAZON.CO.UK: $63.37 DIFFERENCE: $30.38

Macroeconomics AMAZON.COM: $114.00 AMAZON.CO.UK: $71.78 DIFFERENCE: $42.22

Linear System Theory and Design AMAZON.COM: $110.00 AMAZON.CO.UK: $49.81 DIFFERENCE: $60.19

Now the million dollar question… is it illegal to buy international textbooks in the US?

According to the Monore Street Journal, the official newspaper of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, the Association of American Publishers, Inc. sent a letter to follow up on an article that was published earlier on sales on international textbooks citing inaccuracies.

“The article maintains that the importation and distribution of restricted-territory, foreign manufactured textbook editions, without the publishers’ authorization, is legal under the U.S. copyright law, asserting that “in 1998 the US Supreme Court ruled that US copyright law does not protect US publishers from cheaper international editions of books being shipped into the US for sale into the US.” This is both an inaccurate statement of the applicable law, and a critical misstatement of the ruling in the decision of the referenced Supreme Court case, Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L’anza Research International, 523 U.S. 135 (1998).”

“Publishers produce restricted-territory, foreign-manufactured editions to address the complexities surrounding issues such as the desire to make high-quality educational materials available to otherwise underserved students in developing markets, the potential for piracy within foreign markets where U.S. educational works are not otherwise meaningfully available, and the related requirements for establishing and maintaining local markets abroad. The publishers’ ability to sell books in foreign markets helps to spread the costs of creating these textbooks over a broader customer base, and thus helps to avoid having those costs borne entirely by purchasers in the
United States. This results in savings for students in the U.S. market.”

“Congress struck a balance in the Copyright Act that provides foreign markets meaningful access to U.S. educational publishing, but also ensures that such access does not either come at the expense of the quality of textbooks produced for the U.S. market or increase the costs of such textbooks for the students purchasing them in the United States. That balance is embodied in federal law and should be respected.”

The reality is you probably need a lawyer to help you unscamble the confusion that was set by the courts in 1998. As for buying an international version of a book… you can be the judge of this one.

[Read] Quality King Distributors Inc., v. L’anza Research International Inc., was the 1998 Supreme Court ruling the the NY Times article was referring to which the  Supreme Court found that the copyright holder could not prevent re-importation of materials it had authorized.

For a little more detailed reading you can check out US Code Title 17 Chapter 6 which discusses Manufacturing Requirements, Importation and Exportation.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |